23 Jul How Blockchain Can Be Used To Dramatically Improve Cybersecurity
By removing much of the human element from data storage, blockchains significantly mitigate the risk of human error, which is the largest cause of data breaches
– Alex Momot, CEO at REMME
Ukraine — Jul. 23, 2018
Blockchain technology enables enterprises and individuals to agree on the true state of a data set without reliance on a costly intermediary. This same characteristic makes blockchain a perfect fit for certain cybersecurity applications. To understand how, precisely, calls for examining the basics of blockchain technology and considering how it can be used to secure the cyberspace.
Everything within the information security industry, as with everything on the internet, comprises data. A file on a disc; information stored on a server; a network packet; process temporarily held in RAM or in a processor register: it’s all data. At its heart, then, cybersecurity can be thought of as a battle for the ownership of data. It is a constant quest to ensure that our most valuable 1s and 0s — the critical data that is of significant value to its owners, and sometimes of even greater value to its would-be thieves — is kept under lock and key.
But electronic data isn’t static. By nature, it exists to be shared among counterparties, partners, clients, customers, and colleagues. Ensuring that data is only accessible to authorized eyes is a complex task. Proving that someone is who they purport to be on the web is not easy, and determined attackers are extremely adept at spoofing, phishing and mimicking their quarry. Blockchain technology cannot prevent information from falling into the wrong hands, but it can provide a high degree of surety that the entity accessing it is who they claim to be.
A quick dive into data
Data should conform to the following properties:
- Confidentiality: With private data, a set of rules limits access to information. Only an authorized user and/or process has a right to access to read certain data, and all other entities are prohibited from doing so.
- Integrity: The consistency, accuracy, and trustworthiness of data over its entire lifecycle must be maintained. Only an authorized user and/or process is entitled to modify or delete data — e.g. only Jenny can edit and delete her files on the disc or only a processor has the option to modify a register’s value.
- Availability: Authorized parties must be able to access the information when required. Data is accessible only under strict rules, regulations and agreement.
- Authenticity: A digital object must be what it claims to be or what it has been designated to be.
- Non-repudiation: A party to a contract or a communication must be unable to revoke the authenticity of their signature on a document or the sending of a message that originated from them. The creator or modifier of a digital object should be unable to say afterwards that it was not their work.
There are three states that information can be in:
- Stored: It is located in a database, stored in a local drive, network shared drive or in cloud storage.
- Processing: When a process or application obtains access to or uses this data.
- Transit: When information is transferred from one network node to another, transmitted by email from a sender to the recipient(s), or when bits flow from one host to another.
To understand what informational aspects a security blockchain can handle we need to apply the following analysis. A blockchain, by default, is suited to handling certain informational states:
Based on this analysis, the following facts become clear:
- Blockchain technology does not provide confidentiality by default. It’s open by nature. Additional tools are needed to encrypt data that is stored on a blockchain to effectively anonymize it.
- Authenticity is not available.
- Availability: Blockchains use multiple nodes to distribute data which are difficult to block or DDoS, thwarting attempts to access the data. If cybercriminals manage to delete, hack, or encrypt the data of one node they will still fail as there are too many available nodes to remove all instances of it.
- Integrity: Cryptography plays a major role in ensuring data integrity. When the data is stored, it is digitally signed. For data in transit, this means hashing and digitally signing it. For data in use, it means digitally signing it, comparing it with the hash of original data, and reaching consensus.
- Non-repudiation: Data is assured by the block ledger. Once signed in a transaction, it will remain forever. Because blockchain transactions are also signed by the user’s secret key, non-repudiation is supported.
It is evident, based on this cursory examination of how blockchains handle data, that there are instances where the technology offers key advantages over a traditional database. Rather than storing a trove of valuable information on a centralized database, which makes a natural target for attackers and presents a single point of failure, data can be distributed on the blockchain.
Blockchain cybersecurity solutions in action
Security of information properties in different states requires implementation of security controls: policies, mechanisms, algorithms and complex solutions. Furthermore, every security system requires a source of trust, in whom trust is unconditional. For example, TMP or HSM at the level of hardware security; Kerberos or RADIUS servers of authentication at the level of the enterprise infrastructure; Certification Authority at the level of internetwork communication. That’s the reason why there are so many cyber attacks targeted against the source of trust: substitution, crashing, block access etc. Blockchain technology, which embodies availability, integrity, and non-repudiation, can be used as a reliable source of trust, as it is invulnerable to standard types of cyber attacks.
With every action that takes place on a blockchain being digitally signed and timestamped, there can be no disputing who’s accessed or moved it and when. Every transaction on the chain can be associated with the cryptographic signature of a particular user. Using decentralized storage technology such as IPFS, it’s possible to encrypt and store information of any kind on the blockchain. As a result, businesses can store documents and other digital items on a distributed ledger in the knowledge that it will be always accessible, and that it will be virtually impossible to destroy.
By removing much of the human element from data storage, blockchains significantly mitigate the risk of human error, which is the largest cause of data breaches. It is no fluke that the Bitcoin blockchain has not been successfully hacked since its inception. When configured properly and suitably distributed, a blockchain can safeguard data of all kinds and for all industries. If cybersecurity professionals can be thought of as the guardians of the world’s data, it follows that they should be drawn to distributed ledger technology. Blockchain is not a silver bullet, but it’s a highly effective way of storing, sending, and encrypting critical data and monitoring, in real time, who accesses it and how. And that’s pretty powerful.
– Alex Momot is CEO at REMME
REMME is here to make sure the bad guys can’t hack the autopilot of a self-driving car to cause it to crash into a crowded street; prevent villains from launching a biological attack using just one laptop, and to stop anarchist hackers from compromising presidential election results.